Monday, September 27, 2010

Yves Saint Laurent - Belle d'Opium

A snuffed candle

Yves Saint Laurent launched its best-selling fragrance Opium, in 1977. It was one of the big iconic perfumes of the 80s, a fragrance that signified exoticism, mystery, danger and sensuality. Its popularity and its decadent scent trail inexorably led to a backlash against heady perfumes that I think we're still recovering from. 

So, in 2010, YSL released Belle d'Opium, the latest flanker to the famous oriental. The YSL web site says that it contains an "overdose of rare and precious ingredients to take extreme femininity to the limits of indecency." Ah, no. Belle d'Opium doesn't even get near my limits of indecency, but I do like it.

Belle d'Opium opens with white pepper, a hint of peach and some sandalwood from the base showing through. The heart of the perfume revolves around what they refer to as the "Nargileh accord" and incense. Nargileh is a tobacco water pipe (hookah is basically the same thing), like I described in Fumerie Turque. But I don't smell tobacco in Belle d'Opium. Instead the idea of a lazy curling column of smoke has been created with a smoky note that smells like a just-snuffed candle, with a touch of incense weaving through it. The bottle hints at this candle aspect with a red wick running through the middle.

Although "Casablanca Lily" is the flower that the marketing focuses on, I don't really smell lily either, which is a good thing by me.  Lily is one of the new "it" notes this season but not one of my favourite flowers. Belle d'Opium has a quiet, well-blended white floral bouquet, quite demure and nondescript actually, supporting the curling smoke heart. It's almost as if the fat, waxy petals of those flowers translate into the waxiness of white candles. The base is a musky wood with patchouli - pretty much the ubiquitous "new chypre" base.

Belle d'Opium is fairly quiet, staying close to the skin (unlike the original) and fading after a few hours. I'm disappointed that Belle d'Opium, with such a delicious list of notes, and marketing that promises an "overdose" of ingredients, is so tame to me, but that seems to be the way that the big main-stream perfumes are done these days. Truly "indecent" perfumes, or perfumes that dare to have sillage, still can only be found in the smaller niche lines.

But Belle d'Opium is pretty. I like wearing it. If I could get a big bottle inexpensively, I could see spraying this on liberally in the cooler months. I like to relax in those long dark evenings with candles burning and a cashmere wrap for cuddling. Belle d'Opium would be a good comfort scent for those casual evenings, shut away from the rest of the world, lolling about on the couch. Not unlike an opium den, actually.

House: Yves Saint Laurent
Nose: Honorine Blanc and Alberto Morillas
Notes: Sample card lists: Casablanca Lily, incense and Nargileh accord. OzMoz lists: top note: Mandarin Orange, Lily, Gardenia, White Flowers middle note: Frankincense, Peach, Pepper, Tabacco, Hookah Accord, Fruity Notes base note: Patchouli, Sandalwood, Smoky Notes, Amber

Photo: One of a series of photographs by Hungarian photojournalist Brassaï taken in Paris in the early 1930s. Via stevechasmar.


  1. Ah, I hope to try this one. I am big fan of the original and I have a enough 'vintage' stock to run a bath with ,though I do share it with Mom ! *LOL*
    This sounds good though I am not a fan of flankers. Thanks for a lovely review !

  2. This is one I know I have to try but I don't expect to love. All of the notes sounds wonderful, heavy, an intoxicating oriental. But, all of the reviews I read of "Belle" say that it is comforting, light, soft.
    I also have to be real and have no expectation that it will even slightly resemble the original. (Which even I find to strong. I can only wear the body butter.)

  3. I share your thoughts on this one, though I do get the lilies (a bit!), but not the peach. The opening is a bit jarring and synthetic - as though the lilies and incense are fighting - but the drydown is the same on me, and I think I would also find it a cosy scent for languid winter evenings.


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